Running Naturally: A Step by Step Transformation, Part I
By Sandra M. Elliott, Physical Therapist

If you are following the recent trends in running and in running shoes, you already know there are ‘winds of change’ blowing and that means there is going to be lots of questions about how those changes could affect your current running habits.

Since attending training to become a certified “Natural Running Coach,” and as I continue to research ways that this I can assist my current patients, I have modified the way I evaluate and treat those patients who seek help with an injury associated with running. I am seeing truly positive results in helping others make various modifications to their running form.

The ‘natural running’ form is closely associated to many other recent trends in running style: Pose running, Flow running, and Chi running. All of them are similar in the basics of a running form that requires many of us to examine not only our posture during running, but also how our foot strikes the ground. Additionally, we also need to check the current shoes we are wearing when we run.

If you are going to make any changes to your running habits, you must first be aware of how you run. Research indicates that 85% of us are heel strikers when we run, meaning our foot is out in front of our bodies and that our heel makes initial contact with the ground. The heel strike sets off a chain reaction of force that travels up the leg, to the hip and back, in addition to expending a lot of wasted energy.

Run Natural Form: The Basics Running naturally has certain basic components that start at the top of the head. Body posture is vital to good running form, and natural running starts with good alignment of head and shoulders, with eyes looking forward in the direction you are going and shoulders relaxed.

Next in the chain is the position of the arms. The arms should be at your side, elbows bent at 90 degrees, ready to be used to help propel the body forward. The key is to remember not to allow the arms to cross the center, or midline, of your body. You want the body to move forward, not side to side, and the position and use of the arms is very important in the conservation and optimal use of energy.

Thirdly, we want to have a forward lean of the body that starts at the ankles. This means that our body, from the ankles up, remains relatively straight, not bent at the waist, again posture of the body being a key factor in optimizing running form. Once you learn to lean from the ankles, your body automatically begins to ‘fall forward’ thus giving you the proper angle and helping to ensure an efficient running form.

Next and very important is that your foot lands under your body or hips, with a BENT knee. Optimal running cadence, or the rate at which your foot strikes the ground, if you want to improve your speed, is about 170-180 steps per minute. In order to get that many steps in one minute, you will need to shorten your stride. Landing on a bent knee with your foot under your body, not only saves energy but actually allows you to USE the Achilles tendon and calf muscles to absorb the shock and propel you forward, similar to a spring.

The key to running naturally, if you have been used to heel striking in a highly cushioned shoe, is to progress gradually. Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, physician, Air Force Flight surgeon, and 2011 Air Force Marathon winner, suggests you apply the natural running form in a more neutral, minimalist style shoe in the following ways: add 5 minutes every other day in a minimalist shoe, or increase your run in a minimalist shoe by 10 percent each week. He also adds “Listen to your body, work on strengthening the core and practicing mobility exercises (foot strengthening drills) to support the barefoot [natural] technique.” (Source:

Next time, I will cover more on minimalist shoes and some specific drills that can help you transition to the natural running form.